20 May, 2022


Is Sri Lanka’s Sovereignty For Sale? Port City & Its Geopolitical Impact; Can Sri Lanka Navigate The Stormy Waters?

By Vishwamithra

“Liberty isn’t a thing you are given as a present. You can be a free man under a dictatorship. It is sufficient if you struggle against it.” ~ Ignazio Silone

Gone are the days of the dreaded cold war. Ever since the cessation of the World War2 (WW2), the global marketplace became a playground for arms dealers financed by the then two super powers, United States of America (USA) and Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the eventual victors of WW2. On May 7, 1945 the German Instrument of Surrender became a binding legal document that effected the extinction of Nazi Germany and ended World War2 in Europe. Yet, the USA, under the pretext of putting an end to Japanese aggression, which was still continuing after May 7, unleashed the most destructive manmade weapon in history. They dropped the atom bomb on Japan. Men, women and children in Hiroshima and Nagasaki became the most unfortunate victims of this maddening experiment.

But this American exclusivity, sole ownership of the Atom Bomb, did not last long. ‘Eight sovereign states have publicly announced successful detonation of nuclear weapons. Five are considered to be nuclear-weapon states under the terms of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). In order of acquisition of nuclear weapons these are the United States, Russia (the successor state to the Soviet Union), the United Kingdom, France, and China. Since the NPT entered into force in 1970, three states that were not parties to the Treaty have conducted overt nuclear tests, namely India, Pakistan, and North Korea. North Korea had been a party to the NPT but withdrew in 2003.

In addition, both South Africa and Israel are also generally understood to have nuclear weapons but do not acknowledge it, maintaining a policy of deliberate ambiguity, and are not known definitively to have conducted a nuclear test’ ( Source: Wikipedia). Of the first eight members of the ‘Nuclear Club’, four (4) are situated in the Asian continent. China, India, Pakistan and North Korea. India is our closest neighbor and Pakistan is just on the other side of India. A very nervous geographical location indeed.

China realizes this strategic significance; so do India and Pakistan. China’s approach to twenty first century’s global strategic diplomacy and its use and abuse has been exceedingly aggressive. That increased aggression had brought them to the doorstep of the previous Rajapaksa regime and with Nandasena Rajapaksa as President now, they seem to be well entrenched inside the ‘Darmadveepa’. Colombo Port City, unfortunately for Sri Lanka,  is the bait in waiting for a hungry Sri Lankan powerhouse that is the Rajapaksas. The Rajapaksas, instead of just being satisfied by taking the bait by itself, chose to swallow the hook, line and the sinker too.

Having been insensitive to geopolitical rationalities, being unknowledgeable of the stark realities of the sensitivities of our closest neighbor, India, and being thoroughly ill-equipped to confront head-on potentially explosive international affairs, Sri Lanka has walked into a landmine of obligations with their eyes and ears wide open and mouths shut! They are essentially tied up with a grossly unfair bipartisan relationship with China whose global ambitions have been more than obvious in the past two decades. No country is eager to help another without expecting anything in return. It’s human nature. Countries can claim to have been blessed with enormous natural resources; they could be blessed with natural sea boundaries or land borders; they may claim to have an ancient past whilst some are relatively new. But all countries, rich or poor, new or ancient, are inhabited and ruled by human beings who ultimately control all affairs relating their land. Quid pro quo is part and parcel of any transactional relationships which in essence exist amongst nations.

In such a predictable and crystal-clear context, we cannot be so naïve to expect China to extend her benevolent arm and render assistance, financial or otherwise, with no return unto herself. It does not work that way. However, the mere fact that the strong one is extending a hand to the weak one, but yet expects something in return which is disproportionately larger than one would assume in such a needy hour is a totally different dynamic altogether. This is precisely where skillful negotiations come into play. Skillful negotiating is an art developed by skillful people; it is an art as old as civilization itself. Wars are averted, conflicts are defused and competition made fair and just when reinforced by skillful negotiation. This is where the Rajapaksa cabal is found to be either woefully inadequate or cynically insensitive.

Nandasena and his Rajapaksa cabal have failed the country. They did introduce some massive development schemes such as Mattala Airport, Hambantota Harbor and Colombo Port City. Their failure essentially resides in the terms on which such massive schemes were negotiated; the eventual funding for those schemes have allegedly come via even more massive payoffs paid to the cabal. Apparently they never hesitated to sell the country’s sovereignty to the funding country as long as the cabal is kept in power and funded for their extravagant lifestyles. It may read utterly bizarre and untrue, but the very haste with which the various events are being manipulated by the government party point to another chain of commands emanating from the cabal leadership at the behest of the lending country, China.

These are the guys who initiated the so-called paada yaatras (marching on streets) when the United National Party (UNP) government sought foreign funding assistance from the World Bank (WB), International Monetary Fund (IMF) and European Economic Community (EEC). One cannot solicit bribes and payoffs from these international funding institutions. But China is different. She has shown an unmistakable propensity to combine their lucrative funding to an exclusive geopolitical agenda. Ceylon is located in the famous Silk Route. The Silk Route was a historic trade route that dated from the second century B.C. until the 14th century A.D. It stretched from Asia to the Mediterranean, traversing China, India, Persia, Arabia, Greece, and Italy. It was christened the Silk Route because of the heavy and extraordinary silk trading that took place during that period. Today that route is being exploited by a modern day super power that has nuclear teeth. That power with nuclear teeth is China.

In geopolitical terms, China’s predominance in the twenty first century is without any parallel; its belligerent economic invasions into the African continent and Asian neighbors have met with little resistance. Armed with overpowering economic superiority and seemingly unquenchable thirst for political dominance, China’s approach to a weaker neighbor is a way too underestimated. On the other hand, when one considers Sri Lanka’s precarious status amidst a devastating Covid surge, one is reminded of what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in his celebrated  ‘One Day in Life of Ivan Denisovich’: “When you’re cold, don’t expect sympathy from someone who’s warm”.

It is unreal for Sri Lanka to expect anything less than abject cynicism from China. She will betray Sri Lanka without a shade of hesitancy if and when she, China, is confronted by India or America. Both America and India are two major players in this game of geopolitics in the Indian Subcontinent. In the twenty first century Sri Lanka vis-à-vis China would become what Cuba was to the USSR in 1962. And that day is not too far. Navigating the ship of State in these stormy waters is no mean task. But Sri Lanka does not seem to have a properly equipped ‘skipper’ at the helm.

The role that the social media is playing has an immeasurable value in this context. The world community, except a very few countries who had television, learnt about the Cuban Missile Crisis via newspapers and radio. Rallying people for or against a given cause is not all that hard in today’s media marketplace. Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, inspiring leadership is totally absent today, especially in the political opposition. Then it’s up to the civilian men and women, with or without leadership, to rally the masses towards a common enemy, not the Rajapaksas, but the very political system that has been producing wretched politicians generation after generation. This unspeakable tragedy has to be ended, not tomorrow or day after, but today, now.    

The context is clear. Every man and woman in the country must educate him or herself of the pros and cons of the Colombo Port City drama. We are not a country for sale. Whatever the price China wishes to offer, it cannot be as high as our sovereignty.

*The writer can be contacted at vishwamithra1984@gmail.com 

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Latest comments

  • 10

    If I am not mistaken, there was much protests in the recent past about the US having a foothold in SL, even declining a US grant, but now, quite happy for the Chinese to call the shots & the possibility of becoming a Chinese colony soon. As it is, the Chinese already have free access to the harbour & most likely, another ‘Macau’ in the form of the Port City in the near future. Instead of a Dubai or Monte Carlo for the rich, the self administered Port City will be most likely a haven for money laundering & a transit point for drug smuggling.

    In the 18th/19th century, the British sought help from pirates to attack Spanish, Dutch & French ships to dominate the seas & in return, allowed the pirates a safe haven in the Caribbean islands. As a result, these islands were lawless & associated with debauchery. Seems the Port City will be the same in the 21st century.

    • 2

      “As a result, these islands were lawless & associated with debauchery”
      What’s wrong with a little debauchery? If it’s conducted openly, wouldn’t it be a good thing, unlike what already goes on under a cloak of virtue. Port City is not likely to be any more lawless than HK or Macau.
      For certain, the management will be better than the current lot in Diyawanna.

      • 0

        old codger

        You don’t seem to know the meaning of ‘debauchery’, maybe you should look it up in the dictionary. It is not the same as the red light districts of liberal Europe.

        • 0

          If you look a bit closer, you might find that “debauchery” falls into the same class of words as “blasphemy” . A bit outdated in the 21st century.

      • 1

        OC, Raj
        People here are worried about the ‘Yellow Peril’ and you dwell on smaller evils.
        Which kind of debauchery bothers Raj more?
        That in the Caribbean in the 18th & 19th Centuries or that in HK & Macau?
        What is in the European Red Light Districts seems clean.
        Service providers must be fully vaccinated, even against AIDS.

        • 1

          Some who want Sri Lanka to be like Singapore forget that it has plenty of casinos and regulated brothels.

  • 3

    We all appear to know the dangers we face; why is nobody doing anything about it all?
    All my life I have spoken out against what I have seen as injustice, and fraud, and against lunacy. What good has all that done me? Precious little.
    I’ve never been accused of fraud, but many people seem to be convinced that I’m mad. Some others say that despite my pseudonym, I’m not concerned about “the many injustices suffered by the Sinhalese people”. I say that “No man (and no nation) is an island . . . (John Donne). We should be concerned about all of humanity. “Pretentious, high falutin rot” I already here you saying.
    I want to say this loud and clear:
    “Let Sri Lankans all unite at this hour, think rationally, and then protest, since that seems absolutely necessary!”
    Panini Edirisinhe (NIC 48 3111 444V)

    • 0

      From this article, one can see that India and America are unhappy with the way the Port City project is being handles by the Rajapaksas. The article further says that Rajapaksas have been insensitive to the geopolitical anxieties of India and America. He even spells out the reason as bribery. This is a serious allegation because it is a humongous project ($15 billion) by Sri Lankan standards. A ten percent of this amount is $1.5 billion.
      China will naturally expect return for its investment. You can’t blame them for this natural human behaviour. The big question is, will they want a pound of flesh. Rajapaksas’ conspicuous silence and hasty actions do not sit well with the Sinhalese civil society.
      China has a large amount of surplus money. Previously when interest rates in the Western countries were high, they parked their money in these countries and earned good money. Now the interest rates in Western countries, Japan etc have near zero interest rates. Therefore China is looking for alternate ways. China has made similar investments in Malaysia and got into trouble. The then prime minister was convicted for bribery.
      I believe that the anxiety of India and America arises geopolitics min nature.

  • 4

    “No country is eager to help another without expecting anything in return.”
    But the kind of help and way help is delivered differ.
    How is that, amid all manner of charges of ‘debt trap’, Chinese colonial ambitions etc., China continues to upstage the West in Africa and now Lain America?
    Surely, the West has far better means to develop Africa and the rest of the Third World.
    The US is still interested in military bases in Africa than investment in development.
    Its direct and indirect military interventions have only caused pain and chaos.
    Is there nothing to learn?
    It is much easier to beat China in its own game of development assistance than to stand idle, curse China and build futile military partnerships.
    Why will they not give it a try?

    • 0

      Part (A) SJ, your ref;
      “It is much easier to beat China in its own game of development assistance than to stand idle, curse China and build futile military partnerships.
      Why will they not give it a try?”
      The US after the San Francisco accord, (1947) was a major lender for development projects, and investments in SL (Shell, Caltex, Mobil and others). The UK for a very long time was a major (Leading) development Assistance Fund source since independence until Japan took the lead in late 60’s/Seventies.
      What did SL do in 1960’s (Sirima government) Nationalised overnight on the premise that they were profiteering too much and nationalised the institutions and took their assets over to the CPC. Compensation was forthcoming for the nationalised assets long way after, if i am not wrong after change of government. Not saying owning something nationally and making sure there was less fleecing of the customer and keeping them in SL is bad idea. It is very good. However the methodology and process involved not the best and was “wanting”. US was god smacked that the SL government has robbed its assets.
      The process would have been better, if the Government had invested and formed CPC to facilitate competition and other mechanisms, if there was unfair profiteering by Shell, Caltex and Standard Mobil, and a reasonable compensation.

    • 0

      Part (B) SJ
      That wasn’t forthcoming and was a show of Bravado. No doubt, the electorate thought that Sirima and Felix RDB were knights in white shining armour.
      Thereafter, no US investments in SL, though US AID wheat flour was uninterrupted, until the GCEC in 1979 by US entities.
      No wonder US did learn a lesson and is now careful how it uses its resources in different ways all over the world. That was the reason for the 365 or 465 page agreement to be signed and passed in parliament for the Millennium Challenge Corporation to cover all angles, which the present government and protestors claimed was alienation of SL territorial sovereignty!
      Is it that the thinking of the government and its followers (Trade Unions) that the Colombo Port City act in Parliament does not infringe on the sovereignty of SL and therefore does not require protests (20 million people are silent!) and is different and better than the MCC agreement rubbished by the government, which was delivering US$ 485 million in investment?
      Or because now we got US$ 500 Million. US$ 15 Million Richer. What a mess of pottage.
      Nothing more is required as evidence than the response of a ‘genuine’ friend China to Australia, on the prospect of termination of the Port of Darwin 99 year lease – not yet only scrutiny of the agreement – to understand by the government any security lapses involved!

      • 0

        You are just thrashing about to avoid answering the question “Why will they not give it a try?”
        The answer is simple:
        They cannot even if they want.

        • 0

          Short answer is that it was tried, but failed, had “Egg on their face”; due to shortsighted action by SL. Therefore the question of trying it out does not arise.
          Apologies for giving you a short synopsis of US/SL relations and outcomes for past 70 years as to the reason “why not”.
          I hope this clarifies, puts things in perspective.
          Thanks for understanding.

          • 1

            You have a point. I will not comment on the rights and wrongs of various governments and their decisions. But what is clear is absence of consistent policy decisions. Oil distribution , the ports, transport, were all nationalizes, and privatised again within a generation. Insurance was nationalized, privatised, and re- nationalized again, like the sugar mills. This situation of policsl flip-flops would put off any investor. That’s why the Chinese insist on collateral, and/or ironclad agreements with punitive clauses for abrogation, as Ranil found to his discomfiture re Port City and Hambantota. One can’t blame the Chinese for doing their homework.

            • 1

              Thanks for the clarification on this matter.
              Am happy that SJ asked the question.
              That gave me an opportunity, to talk about the experience I had 50 years ago with these arbitrary action and failed governance.
              My personal view is that Foreign investment is based mainly on long term prospects, security of investment especially and Return on Investments (RoI) – should be sufficiently high enough to cover untoward eventuality) and above all Repatriation of profits (RoP) of investment “Solid Gold” Guaranteed, important thereafter. The last is the one which will finally sway the investor and this is hardly the factor that the SLFP+, or SLPP+ (mostly ex SLFP) can convincingly portray as evidently credible and trustworthy, with their past records, to enamour Million/Billion dollar investor w/o direct filial connection to those in power, which has been the crucial factor as evidenced in the past. SL under such conditions, comes undone when they SLFP/SLPP are in power. Investment is a matter of trust, keeping your word, polls promises, not something you could do overnight. I would like to see US, Indian and Japanese Foreign investment, but remain only “optimistic and hope it will happen”, in the light of ECT, MCC and Colombo Light Rail debacles without proper evaluation.

  • 9

    Today China suspended ALL trade agreements with Australia in protest of Australian government’s threat to scrape the 99 year leasing of Darwin port. China accused Australia of “cold war mind set and resisting their road to glory ideology”. Bottom line China was planning to acquire the port, more than bilateral trade deals and when Aussies woke up to this reality, China is whining about injustice. New Zealand has been resisting alliance in making independent decisions relating to China. Jacinda recently said ‘it is becoming difficult and hard to continue a working relationship with aggressive China”.

  • 2

    When has China fulfilled its obligations in Sri Lanka? Norachcholai ever breaking power plant is an example. Another example the Hambantota Port which was built by the Chinese where no ship could enter because the big rock at the entrance was not removed. The promise to bring industries to fill up the Hambantota FTZ never happened other than a big fence and a Chinese flag. Still Rajapakse Family Government and the nonvoter base thug politicians of SLPP keep the Chinese on their heads and dance.

    • 2

      “Norachcholai ever breaking power plant is an example.”
      No, it isn’t a very good example. The Chinese offered to operate the plant, but this was rejected by the know-it-all CEB engineers, who had zero experience with coal power. They should have let their people gain experience for 10 years at least under Chinese supervision.

  • 1

    The Rajapaksas are selling Sri Lanka to line own their pockets with billions however whats with the ‘China phobia’ and anti-China rhetoric?
    China is a growing power and is seeking to establish itself as a global power with influence. The current Hegemon, the US and previous empires like the British and the French did the same. China’s model to acquire power and influence in the world maybe different from the western powers but the intentions are no different. The use of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency, US control of world financial systems, NATO, US military power, IMF and World Bank lending practices etc. are western soft and hard power tools to control the world. China is challenging that established position and offering a different model to the world. If you are going to criticize the model China is offering, you need to look at the current western imposed model impartially too.

  • 0

    Yes! We prefer to be lax when it comes to entering treaties, especially bilateral. Colombo Port City is one of them and the jokers who sell and sold our sovereignty is not confined to the “Rajapakses”. Politicians, when they are in opposition, they appear to be the champions of public interest and when they are in power make hay while the Sun shines and the people be damned. Sri Lanka’s position in geo-politics should be exploited to its advantage to the maximum and our politicians simply sell out for comparatively a tuppence to their pockets. Looking at the basics when the entire mind-set is to earn for seven generations, thus being a Kleptocracy, instead of a Democracy, what can you expect more? It is important to cure the root of the issue rather than discuss the various facets of the disease. With respect to the Port City law, even opposition politicians to day state that had they been in power they too would have passed a special law for its operation but not in its present form. Fine! Then let them propose the amendments to the present law keeping in mind the precedent of GCEC law of 1978.

  • 0

    Good Sense,
    Absolutely correct and you hit the nail on the head.
    What is the solution is the question that begs the answer?
    They seem to do it with much relish!

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